MILTON-FREEWATER - Two busloads of local National Guard members embarked on a 14-month deployment to Afghanistan this weekend.
Along with the dozens of camouflage duffle bags and backpacks they loaded, 50 men and women of the 1186th Military Police Company also took with them memories of the hugs, kisses, tears and waves given by almost 200 family, friends and community members who sent them off on Saturday from the Milton-Freewater Armory.
"We are doing pretty well," Jenn Stemple said, just after the 2 p.m. ceremony at McLoughlin High School.
Later, the mother of two and wife of Sgt. Robert Stemple admitted she was trying to be strong in front of their kids.
"I have my moments by myself out in the barn. But like I said, I have a great support system," Stemple said.
Just then her greatest support stepped up to greet his wife and children.
"Is she asleep?" Sgt. Stemple asked of their 2-year-old daughter, Sloane, who had sacked out somewhere between the pomp and circumstance.
"Yes. You can take her because she is a sweat ball," Jenn Stemple replied.
Stemple took his daughter and glued her to his left shoulder, looking as though he had no intention of letting her go.
As the official ceremony ended, families gathered in small groups and eventually meandered over to the Armory, where they would say goodbye.
Sixty-two Milton-Freewater Oregon National Guard members are headed to Afghanistan.
The other 12 are already in Salem, where a second goodbye ceremony will take place today.
In fact, many of the family members were driving up on Saturday night to do it all over again, except that today's goodbye would be for 14 months.
"Once we are gone, we are going over there," Stemple said, noting the unit will guard convoys and bases and perform other military police duties.
"It is a very important mission," he added.
As for the family left behind, Sgt. Lee Sweet was quick to point out that his wife and children will not be alone, and neither would he.
"I got the best thing in the world. I got God. I got a good support group," Sweet said.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.